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¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

It’s Cinco de Mayo! Celebrate by sharing these books starring the holiday itself, Mexican and Mexican American protagonists, and the Spanish language — all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide. (For more recommended Spanish-language and bilingual books, click here.)

Picture books

ada_let me helpIn Alma Flor Ada’s Let Me Help! / ¡Quiero ayudar!, pet parrot Perico knows how to say “Let me help!” He repeats this statement as his (human) family members prepare for the San Antonio Cinco de Mayo festival. They shoo him away, but to everyone’s surprise he eventually finds a way to help. Angela Domínguez’s warm-hearted illustrations — from a bird’s-eye view — support the family-centered text, printed in both English and Spanish. (Children’s Book Press, 2010)

cumpiano_quinito day and nightQuinito describes, in English and Spanish, his family, friends, and activities in terms of opposites: “My Mami is short. My Papi is tall…I’m just the right size.” Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche by Ina Cumpiano succeeds as a book of opposites, an exposition of bilingual vocabulary, and an engaging portrayal of family and neighborhood. José Ramírez’s naive-style paintings in warm colors over black are both comforting and energy-packed. (Children’s Book Press, 2008)

medina_tia isa wants a carThe young narrator of Meg Medina’s Tía Isa Wants a Car, who lives in America with her aunt and uncle, describes how Tía Isa wants a car, one that’s “the same shiny green as the ocean.” However, they don’t have enough money — yet. The narrator incorporates Spanish words naturally, giving the dialogue an authenticity that is neither laborious nor stilted. Soft watercolor illustrations by Claudio Muñoz mirror the text. Also available in a Spanish-language edition. (Candlewick, 2011)

Nino Wrestles the WorldPint-sized Niño, fearless luchador and reluctantly attentive big brother, dons his red mask, ready to take on all comers, in Niño Wrestles the World. He battles a series of imagined foes from Mexican history and popular culture before facing the trickiest of opponents, las hermanitas! Working in digital collage, author/illustrator Yuyi Morales packs every polychromatic double-page spread with action, trying — not quite successfully, fortunately — to contain Niño’s energy within their frames. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2013)

reiser_my wayAuthor/illustrator Lynn Reiser uses the bilingual structure of My Way: A Margaret and Margarita Story / A mi manera: Un cuento de Margarita y Margaret in an ingenious way, with the English (Margaret’s voice) and Spanish (Margarita’s) mirroring each other on facing pages, but with each girl presenting a distinct self. Reiser’s cheerful primary-bright palette signals readers that friends liking different things is just fine. A satisfying, upbeat reminder that kids can be true to themselves and be a good friend, too. (Greenwillow, 2007)

saenz_perfect season for dreamingA Perfect Season for Dreaming / Un tiempo perfecto para soñar begins on the first day of summer as Octavio Rivera begins to dream. He shares these visions with his granddaughter Regina, who also experiences dreams as if they are “good friends who…console you when you’re lonely.” Author Benjamin Alire Sáenz beautifully evokes a dream state with long, languorous sentences in English and Spanish. Esau Andrade Valencia’s richly hued and textured surrealist tableaux are both accessible and inspired. (Cinco, 2008)

soto_big bushy mustacheIn Big Bushy Mustache by Gary Soto and Joe Cepeda, the only costume Ricky wants to wear for his class’s Cinco de Mayo play is a big, bushy mustache, because it looks just like Papi’s. When he wears it home from school to show his parents, he loses it along the way. Papi’s solution — he generously offers his own freshly shaved mustache — is a little unlikely, but the warm family relationship, emphasized in Cepeda’s bold paintings, comes across nevertheless. (Knopf, 1998)



ada_love amaliaAmalia is devastated when she learns her best friend is moving to California; fortunately, her abuelita comforts her with stories about loved ones far away. When Abuelita suddenly dies, Amalia must draw on what her grandmother has taught her to accept her grief and anger. Love, Amalia, written by Alma Flor Ada and illustrated by Gabriel M. Zubizarreta, portrays a multigenerational immigrant family with sensitively drawn characters and a low-key story. Concurrently published in Spanish. (Atheneum, 2012)

ryan_esperanza risingIn Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan’s poignant look at the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others. (Scholastic, 2000)




de la pena_mexican white boyThe one place Danny feels accepted is the baseball field. He imagines becoming a star, making his father proud enough to return from Mexico. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican White Boy is a fast-paced baseball story is unique in its gritty realism, framed in the context of broken homes and bicultural pressures. De la Peña poignantly conveys the message that, despite obstacles, you must shape your own future. (Delacorte, 2008)

mcneal_dark waterFifteen-year-old Pearl starts an illicit relationship with Amiel, an undocumented migrant laborer. When fire consumes southern California, Pearl abandons her family to warn Amiel of the approaching flames. Pearl ominously hints at impending disaster throughout the narrative; this foreshadowing heightens the climax’s suspense. Inspired by southern California’s 2007 fires, Laura McNeal’s National Book Award finalist novel Dark Water captures the desperation of both love and survival with wrenching authenticity. (Knopf, 2010)

Aristotle and Dante Answer the Secrets of the UniverseTwo boys strike up a friendship that will change their lives in ways both subtle and profound in Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Belpré Author Award—winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Ari saves Dante’s life but breaks his own legs in the process, cementing the bond between the two Mexican American families. Ari’s first-person narrative — poetic, philosophical, honest — skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance. (Simon, 2012)

saldana_finding our wayIn the eleven disparate coming-of-age cuentos about Chicano culture collected in Finding Our Way: Stories, author Rene Saldaña Jr. forces the reader to experience the linguistic world of many of his protagonists — the decision to offer no glossary for the Spanish phrases that infuse his text serves as a curative disadvantage for the English-speaking reader. Never maudlin or overdrawn, these taut but lyrical tales bring light into the corners of kids’ lives. (Random/Lamb, 2003)



Poetry, folklore, and nonfiction

Muu MooAlma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy’s ¡Muu, Moo!: Rimas de animales / Animal Nursery Rhymes collects sixteen traditional nursery rhymes. Spanish is the preeminent language, with each rhyme presented first in Spanish and then in a free retelling in English (by Rosalma Zubizarreta) that captures the flavor of the original. This will be an invaluable resource for librarians and teachers, and with soft, warm watercolor illustrations by Viví Escrivá, it also makes an attractive gift book.

delacre_arrorro mi ninoSelector/illustrator Lulu Delacre includes the best known Latino lullabies and finger plays in her collection Arrorro mi nino: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games, a veritable Latina Mother Goose. The fifteen selections are presented bilingually; the English versions are literal (unrhymed) translations of the original Spanish. Oil-wash illustrations capture lovely scenes of mothers and grandmothers with children and offer glimpses of Latino life. Finger-play instructions and music are included. (Lee and Low, 2004)

hayes_coyote under the tableThe Coyote Under the Table / El coyote debajo de la mesa: Folktales Told in Spanish and English, Joe Hayes’s collection of bilingual folktales drawn from the Hispanic New Mexico oral tradition, provides refreshing depth and humor. Brief source notes expand on the history of each of the ten tales and add social/historical context. Clean, unencumbered prose draws attention to the structure and rhythm of the stories, which are best read aloud. Antonio L.Castro’s amusing illustrations face the start of each entry. (Cinco Puntos, 2011)

shahan_fiestaIn ¡Fiesta!: A Celebration of Latino Festivals, author Sherry Shahan describes twelve Latino festivals, one for each month of the year, in brief poems accompanied by short explanatory paragraphs. Some of the celebrations, such as Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos, will be familiar; others that are very specific to certain countries or ethnic groups may not be. Paula Barragán’s vibrantly flowing digitally enhanced cut-paper illustrations accompany the text. (August/Little Folk, 2009)


Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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